How I Made the Agonizing Decision to Have Weight Loss Surgery in Mexico

Danielle Dahl, MSML

Having elective surgery in another country seems a little risky, so why am I doing it? Well, I am having weight loss surgery in Mexico because I have been battling my weight for over 20 years.

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I didn't make this decision lightly

About a year ago, I called my insurance because I was the heaviest I have ever been in my life, at 230. I had fantastic insurance, and it would cover all the costs of the surgery once I had met my deductible, which would be about $6000 out of pocket. For many people, though, their insurance covers none of it, and Americans can end up spending over $10,000.

The lady explained I would have to take two classes, meet with a nutritionist for six months prior, and do a few other pre-surgery requirements. I thought, between work and the kids, I don't have time for all of this. Not to mention, that fear of needles is hardcore, like I have a panic attack before getting my blood drawn. I told myself I didn't need surgery. If I could do all of that for six months, then I could just do this on my own and not get poked and sliced.

I let the idea go for a few months, but then I encountered a customer at work. I was working as a manager in a bridal store. She had bought her dress about two months before, and it had just come in. When she bought it, she insisted on buying it a size smaller than what fit. We highly discourage that in the bridal business because we can make things smaller, but not bigger. However, we also have to have tact and not argue with people, so I did it for her after I kindly made sure she knew the risks. Well, it had arrived, and now she was coming to try it on.

I didn't recognize her when she came in. Then we put her dress on, and she was swimming in it! Luckily, I had time to exchange it and get her one TWO sizes smaller! She and her mom were thrilled, and I congratulated her on her efforts while silently being a little jealous. She told me she had weight loss surgery in Mexico.

Mexico? Did you travel to Mexico for surgery? What was that like?

She told me all about how she went to a clinic, where they only performed this one surgery. It was clean, and the people were so kind. She talked about staying on the beach and how the entire process after plane tickets cost her about $4800, and she didn't have to do anything other than a pre-op diet.

My journey

My battle with weight started when I was a competitive high school swimmer. I weighed 120-130; I was beautiful, but like so many other teenage girls, I thought I was "fat." My swimsuit was the biggest on the team (I was curvy). Being the biggest is a prize no teenage girl wants to win. It didn't help that I already had self-esteem issues stemming from parental abandonment and neglect.

When I graduated and went to college, I piled on the "Freshman 15" fast. Suddenly, the scale was hovering near 150. I always thought, "If I ever cross that threshold I will start swimming again and eating better." I was an athlete; I knew how to be fit and eat right. What I didn't know at this young age was that depression, life events, and hormones, and genetics would play an enormous part in my weight loss journey.

Depression

My mom, who I hadn't lived with since kindergarten, died in a car wreck six months after I moved in with her to start college. Next, my boyfriend broke up with me. I moved across the country to live with the father whose face I couldn't remember because it had been that long since I had seen him.

Did I mention, I am also Italian. My newly discovered family in New York was like 'New York Italian.' We eat for comfort; we stress eat; we eat out of boredom; we eat out of anger, hell we eat because everything we make tastes amazing…

My father told me I was gaining weight and needed to watch it. He was also an overweight man, and it felt a little hypocritical. He would yell at my newfound eight-year-old sister about her weight and say things like, "Do you need that donut?" This made her and I both anxious… we both like to eat our anxiety too.

Life events

Then I got back together with the boyfriend who had moved home to Hawaii, and I joined him there. I hovered around 150 for another year. I weighed right about that when we got married. Pregnancy did not help my struggles in the slightest. After the first baby, I ended up weighing in at 170.

Five years later, when I got pregnant with the next child, I gained 40 pounds putting me at over 200 pounds by the time I gave birth. When my son was about nine months old, I realized I had to do something. I got a job at the YMCA as a swim coach, and it came with a free membership. I started going to classes, and before I knew it, I was working as a lifeguard and a water aerobic instructor.

I dove into a healthy lifestyle with a vengeance. I even joined the Y's biggest loser competition. We counted calories; we did crazy workouts. I even started running about 3 miles every other day. This was besides all the swimming and working out, I at work. I stalled out around 175 pounds and felt like all the hard work was for nothing. I found comfort in comfort food and quickly packed back on almost all the weight I had lost.

Hormones and genetics

It wasn't long after this that the doctor diagnosed me with PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome. I had an answer now as to why my body seemed to fight me at nearly every turn when it came to weight loss. There is no cure for PCOS, but the treatment includes weight management. However, the disease makes losing weight even more of a challenge.

According to Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, "PCOS affects your body's secretion and use of insulin. Your cells become resistant to insulin signals, and this prompts your pancreas to produce even more insulin." Insulin also makes you hungrier.

I had aunts on my father's side, who weighed over 400 pounds. My father was also overweight and had heart problems that started in his 40s. One month after his 50th birthday, he had a massive heart attack on the lawn, blowing out the two stents in his heart, and ultimately died from drowning in his blood.

My grandmother on my mom's side has also been overweight her entire life. She has had diabetes for years now. Every meal she eats is accompanied by a shot of insulin in her stomach. She is bruised all over from the repetitive injections.

I do not want to die at 50 from a heart attack. I am terrified of needles and can not live the rest of my life on insulin. I know that I could try diet and exercise for the umpteenth time, but it always ends up with me disappointed. I gain back whatever weight I lose.

I also have an undiagnosed autoimmune disease that makes every joint hurt. I have scoliosis, and my back hurts every day. When I step on my heel, it feels like I am walking on broken glass. I hurt every day. I am also only 37 years old, but I am tired of fighting this same issue for 20 years. I am tired of fighting my body.

I went to Mexico as a companion

I put it out of my mind until three months ago when my best friend, who lives in another state, told me she was having weight loss surgery in Mexico and wanted me to go as her companion. We joined a Facebook group for the facility she would use. We could read about everyone's experiences and track their progress. The doctor frequently posts interviews and helpful tips. Before I knew it was time for her surgery (and my scale had crept up to 250 pounds over the last six months).

I saw the facility firsthand, met the doctors, nurses, and translators; they were all wonderful. They also offer financing. After months of watching everyone's progress, I applied while my friend was eating her post-op popsicle. We stayed at the beach house for her recovery and got pampered at the spa they offer patients and their guests.

If this is something you are considering, here are a few things you can do:

  • Research the benefits and risks of surgery and talk them over with your doctor (mine had recommended surgery for me in previous conversations)
  • Ask your doctor if they will do post-op care for you if you have surgery out of the country (some will and some won't, so you might need a new doctor)
  • Decide on a facility and Google their reviews
  • Interact with their doctor and patient groups
  • Go as a companion

I am having weight loss surgery because I deserve a fighting chance. I am having weight loss surgery in Mexico because it was cheaper, easier to pay for, and the standard of care was high.

A version of this story originally appeared in Fearless She Wrote.

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Words matter. Sharing the pain and evolution found in our life stories compels others to investigate, “How they came to be who they are?” Delving into the events that shaped us as children creates a level of self-awareness each of us can use to establish enduring and essential change. I use my personal history, education as a Management professional, and training as a Life Coach to write insightful articles about leadership and teams, personal development, and everything else that pertains to growth, both professionally and personally.

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